A recent issue of AARP Bulletin magazine identified “dying” technologies which will soon exist only in memories. These include incandescent light bulbs, tube televisions, and stand alone telephone answering machines. That got me to thinking about technology I’ve used and seen die in my lifetime. (Readers under 50 may need to click on the links to descriptions of the technologies I’m about to discuss.)
What first comes to mind is the mimeograph machine. During my college activist days in the early 70’s, we publicized anti-war demonstrations and the like by printing fliers on mimeograph machines. These machines could get messy, so thank goodness for photocopy machines. (Some older folks still say “Xerox” machines, just as some folks call facial tissues “Kleenex.”)
From my early work days, I remember three part carbon paper. This consisted of four pages attached together at the top, with each page separated by a page of carbon paper. The top page was bond paper for the “original” and behind each page of carbon paper was an “onion skin” page for copies. Typically, there was a white, pink and yellow “onion skin” page. The white copy was often mailed out while the pink and yellow pages were for internal use (a file copy and a master reading file copy). This technology is acknowledged through the “cc” (carbon copy) at the bottom of many letters.
I also remember the 5 1/4-inch floppy disc, which my first computer used, but the not the 8-inch disc which preceded it. My first “advanced” computer had two floppy drives which could read the latest “double-sided double-density” discs. Two drives also allowed the use of multi-disc programs or a “save” disc without needing to take out the disc if there was only one drive.
The floppy disc was made extinct by the smaller, higher density 3 1/2-inch discs, which are themselves almost extinct because of flash drives with capacities over 1 gig. My current computer, which is almost five years old, doesn’t even have a disc drive – just a CD/DVD drive.
Another computer technology on the brink of extinction is the dot matrix printer. Years ago, I used to own a “near letter perfect” 24-dot matrix printer but now have a monochrome laser. I’ve noticed that some businesses, such as car rental agencies, still use dot matrix printers because they can make the “carbon copies” needed at one time. Hotels, however, typically print out the various copies one at a time on a small laser printer.
The biggest casualties have of course been in personal audio / video technology. Like everyone else, my parents made baby movies of me using 8 millimeter film. Unfortunately, documentation of my first steps is lost to the historical record.
Then there were various forms of music tapes. I had an eight-track in my car and cassette for my stereo system. I still have over three dozen cassette tapes of entire albums I taped from radio stations when they used to play new albums without interruption. And I still own a mid-sized “boom box” which has a cassette recorder which I’ve used to tape oldies radio stations toi supplement my oldies CD collection.
I ‘ve refused to dispose of my vinyl record collection. Many albums never made it to CD because they were not “popular” enough. So another retirement project is to transfer some favorite LP albums from vinyl to CD. (I own the collectible Blind Faith album which has the topless underage teen on it before it was yanked from the shelves and replaced with another cover.)
And let’s not forget VHS video tapes, which I still have a bunch of. Mostly, they’re recordings of final episodes of TV shows I used to watch. I still have a VHS player and yet another retirement project is to transfer some of those tapes to DVD.
Then there’s photo film. I resisted digital cameras for a while. I owned a semi-professional Minolta camera with a 75-150 zoom and matched multiplier to take it to 300. Early digital cameras did not have the ability to change various settings and used “digital” zooms which are inferior to “optical” zooms. I also did not like trying to compose using an LCD because I couldn’t steady the camera as well as when it is braced against my face.
Eventually, I tired of lugging all that camera equipment around and bought a Canon with a 3x optical zoom, optical viewfinder (which reduces battery consumption since the LCD is off) and allowed me to change all sorts of settings, including choice of aperture control, shutter control, or fully automatic. It’s great to take multiple photos of the same scene without worrying about “wasting” film and then deleting all but the best photo. (Another retirement project is to scan all my pre-digital camera travel photos so I can put them on my travel photo website.)
I’m sure I’ve left out many other extinct technologies. Let me know some of the ones I’ve missed.